Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo on Monday evening blasted the former APNU/AFC Administration for what he referred to as “blatantly defending illegalities” in spite of strong evidence suggesting that the coalition’s land transactions were highly improper.
The PPP/C Government has claimed that since it took office in August this year, it found that the previous Government handed out huge tracts of prime lands, especially along the East Coast of Demerara (ECD), under highly questionable circumstances, and pledged that it will take action to ensure that the matter is fully investigated.
“Guyanese of every political persuasion, every race will be outraged, because that’s their asset, to see how they were given to individuals in large scales, and this is with proof,” Jagdeo said during an interview with the State-owned NCN TV.
Jagdeo said that many of the persons involved never thought that the transactions would have become public. He noted that the evidence of malfeasance in public office is solid and will unfold in the coming days.
“We will be able to prove this in a matter of days…we can show you the documents,” he said.
The Vice President highlighted that he could point to at least thirty cases of State lands being handed out, in some cases with little or no monies paid over even though there were payment schedules in effect.
He observed that rather than condemning such illegal actions, the APNU/AFC is on a campaign to encourage persons not to hand over the lands back to the State.
“Here is a party saying that a person can get a piece of land, which, based on their evaluation, is worth one billion dollars, vested already, have the title for it, and that person must not give up the land, that’s their party’s position now, they are defending the illegalities,” Jagdeo lamented.
He added: “When we have a clear case of a transfer of land, worth a billion dollars, to a private individual, where they vested the title in the person’s name, and the person has not paid a cent, although there is a payment schedule in the contract, that’s criminal, that person has to be charged”.
Jagdeo cited, for example, a lease at Ogle for 200 acres of land, and in the lease document, it doesn’t say where exactly the 200 acres are leased.
“This is precisely what APNU is defending, their position should be where there is illegality, people have to face the music.”
The VP alleged that some of the persons who are in the Opposition now were part of this illegality, “they were the lawyers for the transactions or they were the beneficiaries of the transactions.”
Jagdeo was adamant that then President David Granger never gave the former Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, Trevor Benn, the authority to sell State lands.
“We looked at the instrument, you have to publish it in the Gazette, he (Trevor Benn) never had the right to dispose of lands, just to lease the land, he is exercising that responsibility on behalf of the President, the President delegated the responsibility, cause it’s the Minister who is the President under the Act, that has that responsibility,” the Vice President explained.
Jagdeo added that the Government will attempt to get clarity from Granger in relation to what powers Benn was entrusted with to dispose of State lands.
In relation to what action Government intends to take to ensure that these assets are returned to the State, Jagdeo said that the police are responsible ultimately for the investigations.
He noted that the necessary files will be handed over to the investigating officials and due process will be followed in all matters to ensure fairness.
It was revealed recently that senior member of the PNCR, James Bond had received US$1 million for prime lands at Peters Hall on the East Bank of Demerara – lands he had flipped. The lands were reportedly leased to Bond for a fraction of that cost.
The scenario with Bond is just one of numerous instances where questionable land deals were struck under the former coalition Government.
Between former Minister of Finance Winston Jordan and former Head of NICIL, Colvin Heath-London, the pair reportedly vested almost 100 acres of prime State land at Ogle, ECD, to eight different companies. All told, the total value of the lands is some $2.9 billion, but NICIL received only approximately $64 million in payments.
With prodding from the Government, some of the beneficiaries are refusing to return the lands to the State.
Meanwhile, five companies that were vested lands by NICIL have since returned those to the State, in a bid for a more transparent process.
Meanwhile, the former Finance Minister has denied any wrongdoing in the transfer of the prime State lands without receiving complete payments.
In a statement recently, Jordan said certain allegations were made against him regarding his role in the sale of those lands. He added cryptically that the matter would be addressed “at the appropriate time”, noting that he has received legal advice that prevents him from delving into the issue further.